Another dreamlike, darkly prophetic meditation on the savagery of South African political history, and on the impossibility of historical knowledge in general, very much in the manner of Nicol's remarkable first novel, The Powers That Be (1989). If this were an ordinary novel, you'd say that it revolved around the conflict between two haunted, obsessive men. Charismatic self- ordained holy man Enoch Mistas has left his backwoods village, chained a Bible to his wrist, and enlisted a strangely devoted following of relatives, travelers, soothsayers, and criminals as he spreads his gospel of rebellion against the repressive regime. The current unnamed president of that regime--armed even before Mistas is born with apocalyptic warnings by the prophetess Maria of his power--sends Field Marshal Hedley Goodman and his detachment of the Cape Royal Fusiliers into the backcountry to put down the rebellion, leading to a long- portended confrontation. But Nicol's fondness for the fairy-tale techniques of magic realism not only heads off any simple resolution of this conflict but keeps the whole story atwitter in fantastic detail--from the tale of Mistas's birth (he's begotten by a fatally plague-stricken stranger on Ma-Fatsoen, a woman whose husband, Fat Eddie, has died after giving her six daughters, and grows up as the dislikable sole hope of his parched village) to the romance of his betrothed (his bride arrives riding an ostrich with his lieutenant Mximba). And fabulous tales everywhere substitute for truth, whether the president is struggling to make sense of Maria's prophecies, or Fat Eddie is wooing Ma-Fatsoen with stories that turn out to be a substitute for sex, or Pastor Melksop is unwittingly turning Mistas into a bullying messiah by the tales he tells. Strange and wonderful stories, all of them; if this lacks the cumulative power of Nicol's extraordinary debut, it still leaves you hungry for more from this gifted writer.